Hi Everyone! It’s been a while. I’ve been busy the past few weeks, as I’ll share in a later post. Today though, I want to address something important. Today, I’m on a mission to change the way you think about addiction.
Scary right? See how I bolded and italicized to make it impossible to ignore? That’s because this really isn’t something to tiptoe around. I know some of you aren’t interested in having such a discussion. If you’re one of these individuals, you’re about to be pretty pissed off, but I hope you’ll stay with me.
I’m not here to stage an intervention. Rather, I hope to provoke some critical thinking surrounding the topic and share resources for those in recovery, those considering a lifestyle change, those resistant to treatment, and the families and friends of those in each category.
Let’s begin with a story. When I was younger and more naïve, my mother began using drugs. I was clueless. I mean, I could see and smell things, but I didn’t quite get it. And honestly, I still don’t. But let me walk you through what I know. In tenth grade, I had one of the best years of my life. I was in a new school and I really found my niche. I felt comfortable and supported. I joined the cross country team for the first time, and though I wasn’t exactly….competitive, I really enjoyed it. The rest of this team was incredible, and they carried my slow ass all the way to the state championship (thanks team).
Luckily, I wasn’t expected to actually participate in that race. The night before we left, my mom overdosed. She died. I woke up to her boyfriend yelling and panting. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening. Mom was revived when the ambulance came, but she was out of it. She had no idea what the fuck was going on. And I was terrified. I still went to the race, and I was pleasantly distracted with a gold medal and a welcoming party. But when I got back home, my mom still wasn’t there.
We left that house when my mom couldn’t pay the rent. We moved in with a family who sold drugs on the front porch. I became noticeably more irritable and picked fights with step siblings, leading my dad to call children and youth services. Then we went to live with my grandmother after a half-assed investigation.
It seemed, to me, that my mom had turned it around for a moment. Then, on my birthday, she left my party to go out with friends. I didn’t see her again for months, but here’s what I can gather: 1) She lost her job after repeatedly stealing from coworkers, 2) She overdosed in a grocery store bathroom, 3) She stole a donation jar with money for a sick little girl, 4) Overdosed again at some point, and 5) Made a deal with the cops to reduce jail time for a number of offenses that is still unknown to me. Much of this, unfortunately, was in the news where all of my friends could see it.
I’m sharing my story to show that when someone becomes addicted to a substance, the harm extends past that person. If you’ve been in my shoes, it’s easy to get angry. You can be scared, or embarrassed, or disappointed, or even guilty. And it’s okay to feel those things. It’s okay to move past those feelings, and it’s also okay to not want to repair those relationships. If you’re in my shoes, whatever you feel is valid.
It took me a long time to accept the disease model for addiction. I was (and I still am) angry and jaded. I was stuck because I knew that my mom had made a conscious decision to purchase and use heroin. I know many of you may also be stuck here, and I hope that I can guide you past that. I certainly agree with you. In many cases, the addiction cycle begins with a choice. And it may be a choice the second time. Maybe even the third. Then, one day, it isn’t a choice anymore. It’s a necessity.
I need a drink right this second.
I’m sweating through my clothes.
I’m out of cigarettes again?
You get the picture. The body just demands the substance, and people can become physically ill without it. Drugs and alcohol also serve as coping mechanisms when individuals are stressed. You had a bad day? Pour some wine. Some jackass cut you off in traffic? Gotta have a smoke. It makes you feel better, right? So next time you’re in a similar situation, what are you going to do?
After working in the behavioral health field for a bit, I can finally buy into the disease model. Yes, it may have been a choice at the start. It also may not have been a choice. Maybe you’ve even made the same choices and were lucky enough to not get caught up. I don’t really care. What’s important to me is that you know what to do next. Below are a small sampling of helplines and informational websites to help you find treatment or begin a discussion with a loved one. Please take a moment to review one site, just in case.
- 1-800-662-4357 – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline
- 1-800-378-4373 – For parents with substance addicted children/teens
- 1-800-999-9999 – Directory of substance hotlines and crisis intervention centers
Information and support